Thursday, February 25, 2010

On artists who write and writers who art: Part 2

As I said in my first post on the subject, Patty and I started this class after seeing how certain artists and writers used another medium – a writer who drew, or an artist who wrote. There are some writers whose drawings and paintings are well known – the nineteenth century English writer of nonsense verse, Edward Lear; Winston Churchill; D. H. Lawrence. After doing further research, we turned up some names that really surprised us.

A lot of authors from the nineteenth century left behind paintings and drawings in their notebooks and archives. Some of them, like a competent watercolour by Charlotte Bronte, probably came about because middle class women of the time were expected to be able to paint a little, play music a little, sew a little, instead of getting a formal education. Now that time has raised Bronte far beyond the intellectual level of her male peers, we can look at the painting not as a genteel diversion for a Sunday afternoon, but as a form of expression that was related to the main channel of her genius.

Sketch by Mark Twain

Many other authors of that time who did not have Bronte’s technical competence nevertheless felt compelled occasionally to turn aside from writing and try to draw something in their notebooks. Mark Twain drew caricatures. Dostoevsky made drawings in pen and ink in his notebooks of buildings in St. Petersburg, and characters from his stories. Joseph Conrad drew can-can dancers. Coming into the twentieth century, we discovered fluid paintings by Hermann Hesse, a scribbled self-portrait holding a beer glass by Dylan Thomas, a stunning etching by Gunter Grass illustrating his own novel “The Flounder”, detailed pen and ink drawings by Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Wolfe, bright splashy paintings by Henry Miller . . . the list goes on.

Etching by Gunter Grass

Why do so many writers draw, sketch, or paint? There are several answers. Some writers, such as D. H. Lawrence and e.e. cummings, painted often, and made it known that they placed as much value on their painting as on their writing. To them, writing and painting were two sides of the same coin. But they share something in common with the writers who drew in their notebooks: they turned to visual art, whether for a few seconds or for hours at a time, as a way of getting down on the page something that they couldn’t do in the writing. Something that they were seeing in their mind and wanted to represent more quickly than with words.

Painting by e.e. cummings

In our classes, Patty and I talk a lot about this ‘seeing in the mind’. It is one of the key concepts of the Story Workshop method used for teaching creative writing at Columbia College Chicago. In the writing class, students are encouraged to pause before they speak, to see clearly in their mind’s eye what they are about to tell, to see specific details, additional details, details from all the senses. Then they voice it, put it into words, tell it, to the whole group who act as an audience for this first telling, which is also a kind of first draft. Some of the drawing exercises we do follow a similar procedure: looking first before drawing, drawing the shape in the air before touching the page, drawing on the page while keeping the eyes on the object, looking again at the object to find something else to add to the drawing.
Student's observational drawing

We also ask the students to draw characters, scenes, words related to some of their writing-in-progress. When they have completed the drawing, we might ask them to go straight back to the writing. Often this detour from writing to drawing and back to the writing produces all kinds of new discoveries to do with scene and character. I imagine that this effect was similar for the published writers mentioned above, too: drawing provided a temporary outlet, a break from writing, a shorthand way of capturing how something looks, and also a way to return to the writing with a more defined picture existing in the mind’s eye.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the other side of the fence – why visual artists put aside their brushes, chisels, or video cameras to express themselves in words.

On artists who write and writers who art: Part 1

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On love spoons (more Welsh stuff)

What do you mean, you don’t know what a love spoon is?

A love spoon is a gift given between lovers that originates in the middle ages in Wales. Patty and I found about this during our research for a travel article in Wales (see previous post). Designs representing love, such as intertwined braids, are carved into the handle. The couple is supposed to hang it from a nail to bring them future happiness. They come in many different designs:

And many different sizes. While we were in Cardiff at Christmas 2007, a chap was just finishing the largest carved love spoon in the world. He was doing it with a chainsaw on the grass in front of Cardiff Castle:

I think he was responsible for carving the previous ‘largest love spoon in the world.’ I recalled this because of the Richard Burton anecdote that came back to me last weekend. But also because it shows how the loony obsessiveness of art-making is not confined to addicts of gigantism such as Richard Serra or Anselm Kiefer.

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On 10 Welsh connections in my life

                                                    People at eisteddfod, isn't it?

Thinking again about Wales made me try to recall all the things in life that connect me to the land of sheep and nice singing:
  1. My father’s mother was born of Welsh parents, which makes me, er, one eighth Welsh?
  2. Because my father’s family all lived in Liverpool, we often took day trips across the border into north Wales whenever we visited our Scouse ‘rellies’.
  3. When I was about fourteen, we spent a summer holiday in Llangollen. I remember visiting an eisteddfod, and thinking how weird and beautiful it was.
  4. I once learned to say (with a bad accent), the longest place name in the UK (it’s in Anglesey): Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
  5. At a wedding party in the 1980s, I nearly got into a fight with a red-headed Welshman after we had argued all afternoon about Mrs. Thatcher and I had ended up calling him ‘boyo’.
  6. One of my fellow students at art college was the lead singer of the Super Furry Animals. We once played a game of pick-up football (soccer to you ‘Murkins) at night in a deserted square in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
  7. When I went to Wales two years ago, I stayed at Baskerville Hall Hotel in Powys. Yes, as in ‘Hound of the’. The only dog I saw, running around the gardens,  was a yapping toy dog that you could fit in the palm of your hand.
  8. One of my best friends in England was proudly Welsh Kim Thomas. That’s actually her full name: Proudly Welsh Kim Thomas.
  9. I’ve always loved films with Richard Burton in, the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and the art of David Jones (a poet and artist whom T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden held in high regard).
  10. And Catherine Zeta-Jones.

See also:

On 10 cool things about being an artist
On 10 things people have said to me at opening nights
On Albee, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Burton
On a follow up to Albee and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On a follow-up to Albee and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Thinking about my post the other day about Albee et al, I dug out this information which is closer to the usual subjects of this blog:

Q: What do these ten artists have in common?

Rembrandt van Rijn.

Frans Hals.

Edgar Degas.

Claude Monet.

Auguste Renoir.

Vincent Van Gogh.

Paul Cezanne.

Henri Matisse.

Pablo Picasso.

Amadeo Modigliani.

A: Paintings by these artists are owned or have been owned by Elizabeth Taylor.

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On ‘Notes to Nonself’ at the Hyde Park Art Center

'Notes to Nonself', multimedia installation by Diane Christiansen + Shoshanna Utchenik, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago

You enter a long, high-ceilinged gallery filled with six-foot high fir trees, their outlines cut from plywood in the simple zig-zag shapes of a child’s drawing. Stuck to the surface of the trees are hand-written phrases, drawings, and linocuts representing people, skulls, prayer flags, organic shapes. Overhead float clouds cut out from paper, hand-painted, and suspended in the air by monofilament. You pick your way through the slightly menacing forest and come upon a life-size pink octopus occupying the centre of the gallery. At the back of the room is a clubhouse, about five feet in each dimension, raised up nearly six feet from the ground, with a ramp leading from ground level up to the entrance. Dominating the space is an animation, projected on the mezzanine wall and running the entire thirty feet length of the room.

Welcome to ‘Notes to Nonself’, a multimedia installation by Diane Christiansen and Shoshanna Utchenik. My first response was: bewildered, but intrigued. The overt meanings are difficult to grasp at first, so I paid attention to how the objects were made: a combination of pleasingly hand-made improvisations and haphazardness that could only come from two very skilled pairs of hands. The more I looked, the more it felt like being let loose within a dream from the Unconscious, where objects and images appear for no apparent purpose, and yet they form themselves into narratives that compel precisely because of their strangeness.

It turns out that I was getting some of what the artists wanted to convey. The accompanying notes contain a lot of information about dharmas and psychological zones and Buddhist principles for living. More interesting, perhaps, is the fact that a lot of the phrases, texts, and sketches pasted onto the trees came about from material that was mailed back and forth between the two artists, one of whom was living in Slovenia at the time the show was being developed. In an email conversation, Shoshanna Utchenik told me that one artist might add a speech balloon with words to a drawing sent by the other. If one artist sent something too 'ego-driven', the other artist might draw something satirical over the top, and this would become incorporated in the final show. The collaboration therefore became about literally bridging distance between people, and the desire to make connections.

The show appealed to my personal involvement with image and text, too. All of these themes were summed up impressively in the colossal animated projection, which I watched twice.  

‘Notes to Nonself’ runs until May 2nd, 2010 at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

On Albee, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Burton

Today being a day of honor for Edward Albee reminds me of when I was in Cardiff a few years ago to do a travel article. Bear with me here: my wife and I were guided round the city by an ex-copper called John Wake, who told us about being assigned to guide Richard Burton and Liz Taylor around the city in the 1960s, about the time they starred in that terrific film version of Albee's play. Burton liked to go to Cardiff Arms Park to watch the rugby, like a good Welshman. Ward told us how bemused Liz was, as she was forced to spend time in the grimy pub in the shadow of the stadium, retreating behind her huge fur coat and giant sun glasses as Burton lived it large with his cronies. I wonder if it was like this:

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On summer classes at Interlochen

Registration is now open for two classes that I will be teaching at the Interlochen Arts Academy in summer 2010: Journal and Sketchbook: The Artist as Witness (co-taught with Patricia Ann McNair); and Introduction to Printmaking. They take place at the College of Creative Arts, which is Interlochen's program of summer classes for adults. Each class welcomes people of all skill levels.

In addition to the links here, you can see examples of past work from students in the Journal and Sketchbook class here.

Interlochen is in an incredibly beautiful part of the world, right in the land of Michigan lakes and woods, and close to the Leelenau peninsula. It's a great place to take a class, and I highly recommend looking at the summer schedule.

Details will remain available on a separate page of this blog until registration closes (Journal and Sketchbook registration until May 1, Introduction to Printmaking registration until June 1).

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

On how to make extremely inexpensive drypoints & collagraphs

Definition of a drypoint: intaglio printmaking method where you scratch lines directly into the surface of a metal/plexiglass plate. So no need to cover the plate with an acid-resistant ground, draw into the ground, then etch the plate in acid. You just scratch, ink, wipe away excess ink, then print. 

Definition of a collagraph: materials glued to a surface (metal, plexiglass, matboard), sealed with acrylic medium, then inked and printed. 

In teaching a printmaking class at the end of last year in rural Illinois, I had to get creative in finding inexpensive materials. I stumbled upon aluminum (=aluminium where I come from) flashing tiles at Home Depot. They are 5” x 7”, and you can get a hundred of them for around $20. There are several advantages to this:

1. The aluminum tiles are a lot cheaper than copper, zinc, and steel, which are the traditional metals used for drypoint. For example: a 5” x 7” economy copper plate goes for around $5 per plate (so $500 for a hundred of those).

2. It’s even cheaper than plexiglass, which would be about $1 per 5” x 7” plate, or $100 for 100 plates.

3. Because the aluminum flashing tiles are so thin, you don’t have to file the edges down before you run them through the printing press. 

    The disadvantage is that because they are so thin, you can’t get many impressions from them. I’ve got maybe four out of a single plate, as opposed to twenty or more from a steel plate. 

    But if you’re looking for a very cheap way to produce a couple of decent-looking drypoint prints – and especially if you want to teach the technique to beginners – then aluminum flashing tiles are an excellent alternative to the traditional materials. 

    I also used the tiles to make carborundum collagraphs: 

    Here are some quick instructions (you need access to a printing press for this): 

    1. Handle the edges carefully: they are sharp!

    2. Take some steel wool and rub it in a circular motion over the entire surface of the plate. This removes the pre-coating from the plate, and provides a nice ‘tooth’ for the carborundum mixture.

    3. In a jar, make up a mixture of 40% acrylic gloss medium, and 60% carborundum grit (or silicone carbide). This is like a very hard sand, and when dry the particles hold a lot of ink.

    4. Use a small brush to paint an image on the plate with the carborundum mixture.

    5. When the image is dry (about 2 hours), seal the image with a layer of acrylic gloss medium.

    6. Ink, wipe, and print.

    Here is an image I created by combining three aluminum flashing tiles, using drypoint and carborundum collagraph, each one inked with a different color (=colour where I come from):

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    On the cover of the new F magazine

    That's John Schultz, founder of F magazine and the Story Workshop method, holding up the latest issue of F at the launch party. The picture on the cover is from my series of James Joyce etchings. F magazine is probably unique in the world of literary magazines in that it publishes long extracts from novels in progress. I am extremely proud to have my print on the cover, and equally proud to call John (and managing editor Tom Popp) a friend.

    Do look at their website or Facebook page, but more importantly, go out and buy a copy of the magazine.

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    On artists who write, and writers who art: Part 1

    I am currently in week 4 of teaching a 15-week class called Journal + Sketchbook: Ways of Seeing. It’s a specialty class offered to students in the Fiction Writing program of Columbia College Chicago, where my wife and co-teacher Patty is an Associate Professor. They are encouraged to use their journals in all fiction writing classes; in this class, I offer the students ways to use drawing to further their writing process. 

    Patty had the initial idea for this class in 2005. She’s a writer, I’m an artist. A lot of our friends fall into these categories. We then started to notice how closely the two arts were linked in the work of many past artists and writers. Our initial digging around turned up about ten writer/artists and artist/writers who had dipped a toe into, or fully immersed themselves in the other medium as a means of taking a break from their usual practice, and also as a means of expressing similar things in that other medium. 

    Writer Number 1: Franz Kafka. When he wasn’t working in a Prague insurance office and writing about beetles, he kept an extensive journal which is peppered with small drawings. If you’ve read any Kafka, you will see how he managed to capture the atmosphere of his own fiction in just a few simple strong lines: 

    Here is a drawing from a student when we taught this class in Prague: 

    Artist Number 1: Frida Kahlo. Everyone’s favourite bedridden feminist icon kept a diary in which every page is saturated with watercolour, then covered with automatic drawings, scribbles, free association lists, letters to Diego Rivera. It’s all looser and faster than the meticulous surfaces of her paintings, yet every page breathes with the sense of the unconscious bursting to express itself: 

    Here is a page from a student’s journal/sketchbook: 

    Writer Number 2: William Faulkner. The author of the biography of my cat – “The Round and the Furry” – produced some extremely competent drawings in a 1920s art deco style. He also drew maps of the imagined place where his novels were set: 

    We ask students at different times to imagine and draw something from a piece that they are writing: a character, a room, a map of the location. 

    Artist Number 2: Eugene Delacroix. Born in 1798, he started keeping a journal in his early twenties. It’s evident that even though it is a diary, he was writing with a reader and possible publication in mind, and for that reason it’s considered one of the great documents in art history: 

    Tuesday, October 8, 1822 
    “When I have painted a fine picture I have not given expression to a thought! That is what they say. What fools people are! They would strip painting of all its advantages. A writer has to say almost everything in order to make himself understood, but in painting it is as if some mysterious bridge were set up between the spirit of the persons in the picture and the beholder.” 

    We can use this in different ways: write the quotation on the chalkboard and discuss it; ask the students to write about their own writing process; ask the students to write about how using a sketchbook has influenced their journals and writing. 
    In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about some surprising finds in the annals of artists who write and writers who art.

    On artists who write and writers who art: Part 2

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    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    On 10 things people have said to me at opening nights

    1. "It's him! It's him!"
    2. "Where's the pizza?"
    3. "You've made me look like Kevin Bacon."
    4. "I only came to see Prince Charles" (when paintings by me and HRH Chas were exhibited inside a British prison).
    5. "Please to explain your mentality."
    6. "Oh no, this won't do at all."
    7. "Prick."
    8. "Are Cubans really that fat?" (when I exhibited prints based on a month-long trip to Cuba).
    9. "Please look at my website."
    10. "I'll buy it, but if it falls off the wall I will sue you."
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    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    On 10 blog/websites you should know about

                                          Now there's a real artist

    I know that so far most of the people who are reading this infant blog are writers and artists. I thought I would post links to 10 blogs and websites relating to writing or art that are worth having a look at. Click, read, and spread the blog love:

    Chicago Fine Art - - is a fine blog run by Chuck Gniech of the Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago.

    Chicago Writer - - has regular literary posts by playwright and all round good egg Michael Burke.

    The Art Blog - - is based in Philadelphia, but should interest artists anywhere.

    Modern Art Notes - - is essential reading from Tyler Green.

    Two Coats of Paint - - is another fine blog/site, this time by Sharon Butler, east coast artist and teacher.

    Watie White - - is an artist I met at the Vermont Studio Center ten years ago. if you don't know his work, you should.

    Edward Winkleman - - offers art, politics, gossip, and tough love from New York.

    Diane Christiansen - - happens to own the house in which I rent my studio in Chicago. But she's also a very fine artist.

    Enhance the Everyday - - is a beautiful blog from a photographer in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

    Non-toxic printmaking - - has everything you need to know about printmaking without nasty chemicals.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    On Troy Richards at Thomas Robertello Gallery

      Troy Richards, 'The Perfect View (interior 1)', 24" x 72", Laser-cut vinyl on plexi, 2009

    Imagine a stylish home or apartment from the early 1960s. You're looking at something from the set of Mad Men, perhaps: a Mies van der Rohe modernist pavilion of glass and slender steel, furnished with low chairs of Nordic design, op-art paintings on the walls, globe lamps hanging from the ceiling. Now picture what this home would look like if an airplane crashed into the garden. This is the world depicted in Troy Richards' exhibition 'The Perfect View' at Thomas Robertello Gallery in Chicago.

    Three of the pieces are two feet high and six feet wide, and two more pieces, though smaller, still retain the landscape format. The landscape on view is of course far from perfect, as the intrusion of chaotic lines and shapes from the tangled wreckage disrupts the neatly ordered patterns of the interior design. Richards achieves his effects by novel methods: creating small models of the scenes, photographing and digitally manipulating them, having each shape in the scene laser-cut onto white adhesive vinyl, after which he patiently sticks each piece onto wide black plexiglass panels. The final pieces look like richly detailed linocuts, or like a brilliantly black-and-white version of Matisse's cutouts.

    At the opening night last Friday, Richards told me that he wanted to create a balance between something that looks like it was produced mechanically, and something that retains the trace of human handiwork. There is evidently a conceptual underpinning to the images, but they are also extremely satisfying to look at, leading the eye to get lost in the profusion of patterns on carpets, paintings, furniture shapes, flowers, and the jagged diagonals of the crashed plane. If you want to have a rewarding visual experience at a welcoming commercial gallery, I would recommend making the trip to the West Loop to see this show.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    On slowing down

    My wife, Patty, teaches in the fiction writing department at Columbia College Chicago. I am co-teaching a specialty class with her called Journal + Sketchbook: Ways of Seeing, and quite often in the classes Patty tells the students to slow down. The students are required regularly to read aloud from their journals, and if they are reading too fast, Patty says: "S-l-o-o-o-o-o-w, down!" If they ask whether they can use their laptops to produce work, Patty tells them that it's better if they write longhand, in their journals. Why? Because this forces them to s-l-o-o-o-o-w down, to think more about what they are writing, to feel more connected to their process.

    In the drawing and sketchbook part of the class, I generally start the students off with quick, gestural drawing, beginning with 10-second drawings and only gradually working towards giving them more time. But I agree with the order to s-l-o-o-o-o-w down. Making visual art can be about the quick, spontaneous gesture, but many interesting things can come about just by patiently adding one thing to another thing over days and weeks.

    In a recent interview in Art in America, performance artist Marina Abramovic said:

    "The most important thing artists can do now is to stretch the present moment. Life is becoming faster and faster, and so we have to absolutely make art slower and slower."

    She was talking about her own time-based medium, but it could be applied to any art.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    On 10 cool things about being an artist

    1. You can go to art school and hang around with very beautiful, talented (mostly), and talkative people.

    2. You can very quickly dispense with the whole notion of success based on money and status.

    3. You get to make beautiful objects that nobody understands, nobody wants, but which everyone at some point needs.

    4. When someone asks you at a party 'What do you do?', you can say 'I am an artist/sculptor/writer/musician', while they have to say 'I am an accountant/trader/waiter/government employee'.

    5. Instead of going to an office, you can go to your studio, which is a cross between a bear pit and a magic cave.

    6. Instead of worrying about mundane things like mortgages and retirement portfolios, you have lofty thoughts about the role of art in an age of unreason, or the ontological basis of Duchampian claims for the verisimilitude (or lack thereof) of the found object.

    7. Occasionally you get to display your work in a public setting, and people come up to you and tell you that you are a very talented individual, and they give you money for the things that you have made.

    8. If 7, then you subsequently have the thrill of converting said money into art materials/studio rent/drinks for friends.

    9. If you do what you do for along enough, you meet all kinds of people you would not otherwise have met: geniuses, morons, saints, sociopaths, neurotics, thugs, sluts, and gallery owners. (Dear Current and Future Gallery Owners: Just kidding.)

    10. You become a member of an Order that has existed for thousands of years, with no clear rules except to be serious about what you do and to dedicate as much of your Self to it as you can.

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    Monday, February 8, 2010

    On the public art project, stage one

    Last week I completed the first important stage of the community memoir/public art project for Carroll County, IL: presenting an outline of the project to the board of the Carroll County Historical Society. I told them about the project, and passed around mock-up photos (do they still call it that these days?) of the outside installation part. Here's another photo that I showed to the board:

    Patty and I will gather the material from the participants by asking them to supply photos showing at least two generations of the same family. Patty will then run writing workshops so that the participants can generate short instances of personal narrative -- not full oral histories, but moments. Selections from the photos and the written memories will then be printed onto light boxes, as shown above -- light boxes that will be arranged like a small banner sign.

    After the presentation, the board voted on whether or not to sponsor the project, and thankfully they voted 'Yes'. This means we can now proceed to apply for money from the Illinois Humanities Council. That will be the next major stage - deadline April 15th.

    Please let me know what you think of what you see here.

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    On marketing one's own art

    I've been heavily involved in increasing my presence on the web since the beginning of the year - working on revamping the website, starting this blog, going back onto Facebook, uploading videos all over the place.

    Every week I have to remind myself to go back to the studio to make new work - which is the only reason I'm doing all the other stuff in the first place.

    On this day in art history ...

    In 1816, Rossini's 'The Barber of Seville' premiered in Rome.

    In 1870, a motion picture was shown to a theatre audience for the first time.

    In 1887, Verdi's 'Otello' was premiered at Milan's La Scala.

    On degrees of separation

    I've been teaching printmaking classes in the past year, and people have asked me where I studied. I tell them that I learned intaglio etching with a German artist called Thomas Gosebruch, when I was living in London. Thomas told me that he had worked for a while in the workshop of Aldo Crommelynck, who was one of the great master printers of the twentieth century. Crommelynck worked side by side with some of the greatest artists of the School of Paris - Arp, Giacommetti, Miro, Braque - helping them prepare their etching plates, making technical suggestions, etching the plates, then proofing the prints and printing the editions. In the 1960s, Crommelynck helped Picasso produce as many as 750 etchings, including the notorious 347 series, in a final masterful statement in a medium that Picasso had always loved.

    One of the reasons that I had decided to study printmaking was because of prints such as Picasso's. One in particular, Blind Minotaur Being Led by a Girl, I had known long before I learned the techniques of etching (I've discussed this print in a previous blog entry). I was keen to find out how Picasso did his aquatints, and it turned out that Crommelynck was responsible for that, and my teacher had learned aquatint techniques from Crommelynck. It still blows my mind that I accidentally found my way to a teacher who was only two degrees of separation away from the great Pabs himself. If I ever produce a print that is half as good as one by PP, or Thomas Gosebruch, I will die a happy man.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    On the wonder of Google

    Thinking of things past: back in the 1980s, I was one of the early users of the PC. It had two discs, one containing the operating system, the other MS-Word Version 1.0, and you swapped the discs in and out of the disc drive to load the operating system into memory, then the word processor, and finally you put in another disc to store what you'd written. And I thought it was fantastic!

    Now I'm writing a post on a widget that's installed on my IGoogle Home Page, which will be automatically cross posted to my blog and my Facebook page. The IGoogle page also has widgets that display a feed from other blogs, a live broadcast of NPR, my gmail account, the weather, and so on. I know that there's some fear that Google is doing too much and taking over the world, but it's hard not to be impressed at the things they're making available. And so far, all of this is free. Think about that.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    On Picasso's etchings

    Next week I'm going to upload my latest video meditation, which will talk about an etching by Picasso called 'Blind Minotaur Being Led by a Girl'. This is one of the works that led me into printmaking. The drawing is so beautiful, so free and yet tenderly careful at the same time. And those deep, velvety black tones were something I wanted to try and make too.

    I later learned the way that Picasso created this print. He first aquatinted the whole plate, which involves dissolving rosin dust over the whole plate to create a pattern of thousands of dots. When the plate is placed in the etchant, the etching acid eats around the dots. When you clean the plate and then ink it, the combination of ink in all those tiny etched holes gives the appearance of a dense dark black tone. Picasso then scraped back into that black background to create the grey and bright white lines that define the broad shapes. He then did a little bit of line etching here and there, and finally used a drypoint needle to scratch directly onto the plate. The dark details of the faces are where you can see the drypoint marks most clearly. All of these techniques combine to produce an image with a variety of beautiful marks. The series of James Joyce etchings that I made (see an earlier blog entry) were heavily influenced by this one print.

    Look out for the next Meditation.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    On a January Salon for writers, artists, and musicians

    Patty and I held our latest Salon yesterday. 25 people - writers, artists, musicians, friends - came along to read from their fiction and non-fiction, play guitar and sing, and show pieces of art.

    A description of Gertrude and Leo Stein's salon in early twentieth century Paris:

    "On a typical Saturday evening, 60 years ago, one would have found Gertrude Stein at her post in the atelier, garbed in brown corduroy, sitting in a high-backed Renaissance chair, her legs dangling, next to the big cast-iron stove that heated the chilly room. A few feet away, one could hear Leo expounding to a group of visitors, his views on modern art. Among the crowd of Hungarian painters, French intellectuals, English aristocrats and German students, one might pick out the figures of Picasso and his mistress, Fernande Olivier (Picasso looking like an intense young bootblack; Fernande, almond-eyed and attractive). The man with the reddish beard and spectacles, looking like a German professor, would be Matisse. Next to him might be the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and his clinging friend, the painter Marie Laurencin. The tall figure would be that of Georges Braque, whose superior stature among the smaller cubists made him the official hanger- of-pictures in the atelier. In the American contingent, the familiars would be the painters Patrick Henry Bruce and Alfred Maurer, both of them early advocates of the modernist vision and both, at the same time, followers of Matisse. It was Alfred, as Gertrude recalled, who held up lighted matches so visitors could see that the C├ęzannes were, indeed, finished paintings because they were framed." James R. Mellow, writing in the New York Times.

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